June 23, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Tori B. Powell and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:07 a.m. ET, June 24, 2023
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6:48 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Russia’s defense ministry accuses Kyiv of taking advantage of Prigozhin's "provocation"

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

The Russian Ministry of Defense said early Saturday that Kyiv is concentrating several brigades for an offensive in the Bakhmut direction, taking advantage of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's “provocation.” 

"Taking advantage of Prigozhin's provocation to disrupt the situation, the Kyiv regime is concentrating units of the 35th Marine Brigade and the 36th Mechanised Brigade of the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) in Bakhmut tactical direction at the initial line for offensive actions,” the defense ministry said in a statement. 

Russia says its forces are fighting back.

“The servicemen of the Yug Group of Forces are defeating the enemy with air and artillery strikes," it said.
6:37 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Security measures have been stepped up in Moscow, Russian state media says

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Security measures have been stepped up in Moscow on Friday following explosive comments from Wagner private military leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to Russian state media TASS. 

"Security measures have been strengthened in Moscow, all the most important facilities, state authorities and transport infrastructure facilities have been taken under increased protection," Russia's law enforcement agencies told TASS.

According to law enforcement, the Special Purpose Police Unit and Special Rapid Response Unit of the Russian Guard were raised on alarm as well, TASS reported. 

Russia's FSB said it was investigating Prigozhin for "armed rebellion" after he vowed retaliation after accusing the Russian military of bombing his mercenary camp.

8:47 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Russian commander urges Wagner mercenaries to "stop" and "obey the will" of President Putin

From CNN's Mariya Knight, Yulia Kesaieva, Katharina Krebs and Darya Tarasova

Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin attends a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on November 3, 2021.
Commander of Russia's Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin attends a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on November 3, 2021. Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Pool/Reuters

Sergey Surovikin, Russia’s top commander in Ukraine, urged Wagner mercenary fighters on Friday evening to "stop" and to "obey the will" of President Vladimir Putin. 

"I’m addressing the leadership, commanders and fighters of Wagner. Together with you, we have traveled a difficult and hard path. We fought together, took risks, suffered losses and we won together. We are of the same blood. We are warriors. I urge you to stop, the enemy is only waiting for the internal political situation to worsen in our country," Surovikin is seen saying in a video posted to Telegram by a Russian state media reporter.

"You can’t play into the hands of the enemy in this difficult time for the country. While it is not too late, please obey the will and the orders of the Russian Federation’s president that was elected by the masses," Surovikin said. "Stop the columns, bring them back to the points of permanent dislocation and communication areas... Solve all the problems peacefully under the leadership of the Commander in Chief of Russian Federation."

Lt. Gen. Vladimir Alekseev, a Russian intelligence official, also posted a video criticizing Wagner's actions on Friday, saying "This is a coup d'etat." 

“What is happening now is a blatant fact of insanity. I cannot explain it in other words," Alekseev said in the video.

"Our country is in the most difficult position right now," he continued. "When the whole Western world is turned against us. When the shells are coming from the whole world. Such things, that you started to fulfill now under someone's provocation idea will lead to enormous losses. First of all, enormous political losses. Imagine the enthusiasm that this will be taken with by the West." 

"Only the president has the right to appoint the top leadership of the armed forces, and you are trying to encroach on his authority. This is a coup d'etat. There is no need to do this now, because there is no greater damage to the image of Russia and to its armed forces," Alekseev said. 

7:38 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Russian security service urges Wagner fighters to ignore Prigozhin's orders and detain him

From CNN's Katharina Krebs and Mariya Knight 

Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin talks to Wagner fighters in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released on May 25, 2023.
Founder of Wagner private mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin talks to Wagner fighters in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released on May 25, 2023. Press service of "Concord"/Handout/Reuters

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) urged Wagner Group fighters not to follow their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin's orders and also implored fighters to take measures to detain him, according to a Friday statement from the group.

"We call on the PMC fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forceful actions against the Russian people, not to carry out Prigozhin's criminal and treacherous orders, and to take measures to detain him," said the statement from the public relations center of the FSB.
“Prigozhin’s statements and actions are in fact calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation and are a stab in the back of Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces,” the FSB statement added. 

The agency reiterated that the widespread statements about the strikes of the Russian defense ministry on Wagner PMC "do not correspond to reality and are a provocation."

"Due to the seriousness of the situation and the threat of an escalation of the confrontation in the Russian Federation, the FSB initiated a criminal case on the fact of a call for an armed rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin," the statement added. 

Read the full statement below:

"The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation reports that all the information disseminated on social networks on behalf of Evgeny Prigozhin about the missile and bomb attacks allegedly inflicted by the Russian Defense Ministry on the rear units of the Wagner PMC is untrue and is an informational provocation.
"The Russian Armed Forces continue to carry out combat missions on the line of contact with the armed forces of Ukraine in the area of the Special Military Operation.
"Prigozhin’s statements are in fact calls for the start of an armed civil conflict on the territory of the Russian Federation, and his actions are a 'stab in the back' to Russian servicemen fighting pro-fascist Ukrainian forces.
"Due to the seriousness of the situation and the threat of an escalation of confrontation in our country, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation initiated a criminal case on the fact of Evgeny Prigozhin's call for an armed coup.
"We call on the PMC fighters not to make irreparable mistakes, to stop any forceful actions against the Russian people, not to carry out the criminal and treacherous orders of Prigozhin, and to take measures to detain him."
7:34 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

US officials say they're closely watching Russian situation following Wagner chief's comments

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2022.
The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2022. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

The White House is “monitoring the situation” in Russia following threats from Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin against Russia’s military leadership, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

President Joe Biden has also been briefed on the developing situation in Russia, National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said.

“We are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments,” Hodge said in a statement.

Officials view Prigozhin’s latest comments — in which he called Russia’s military leadership “evil” and said they “must be stopped” — as something more than his usual rhetoric, a US official told CNN. And unlike some of Prigozhin’s previous statements about Russian defense ministry ineptitude, these comments do not appear to have followed a Ukrainian military breakthrough or tactical success.

“This is real,” said the official, though it’s unclear if the US has any expectations about how or what Prigozhin intends following his calls for Russian citizens to stay in their homes.

Two administration officials said national security officials at the White House are being cautious not to weigh in further until they have a clearer sense of what is happening.

6:23 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Videos appear to show Russian military vehicles driving near State Duma

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser

Several social media accounts appeared to show Russian military vehicles driving on the main streets of Moscow in the early hours of Saturday. One video from a local Russian website showed two vehicles driving by Moscow's State Duma.

In the Russian city of Rostov near southeast Ukraine, military vehicles could also be seen driving the streets.

According to Russian state media TASS, posts were organized on Saturday in the area of ​​the headquarters of the Southern Military District (SMD) in Rostov where military personnel and law enforcement officers are keeping order, a TASS correspondent reported.

There was an armored personnel carrier, military posts, police cars and uniformed people adjacent to the headquarters, according to TASS.

Police were patrolling the central streets with "flashing beacons on" and "in the west of Rostov, the sounds of flying aircraft are heard," TASS reported.

CNN cannot independently verify these videos.

For context: It's not terribly unusual for military vehicles to be seen in Rostov. In Moscow, there is not a massive presence, but a few vehicles can be seen here and there.

5:47 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Russian state TV channel interrupts news program to refute Wagner chief's claims

From CNN's Anna Chernova

State news TV channel Russia 24 interrupted the broadcast of a program Friday night to read out a message from the Russian Ministry of Defense, stating the claims made by Wagner mercenary group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin "do not correspond to reality."

The interruption came during the broadcast of the International Overview program. The anchor announced the following:

"We are interrupting the program [...] to deliver a message from the Russian Ministry of Defense: All messages and videos circulating on social media, attributed to Yevgeny Prigozhin, regarding alleged attacks by the Russian Defense Ministry on Wagner PMC rear camps, do not correspond to reality and are intended to misinform."
6:13 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Here's how Russian officials and commentators are reacting to Wagner chief's accusations

From CNN's Krebs Katharina

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner private military group, claimed the Russian Ministry of Defense deceived the group and accused Moscow's military leadership of striking a Wagner military camp, killing a "huge amount" of his mercenary forces. The outspoken leader of the mercenary force vowed retaliation.

Russia’s Federal Security Service initiated a criminal case against Prigozhin, accusing him of calling for "armed rebellion" on Friday, TASS reported.

Russia's defense ministry denied Prigozhin's claim.

Here's how Russian figures are reacting to the infighting:

Igor Strelkov, pro-Russian military blogger, former defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (via Telegram)

"I state that the country is on the verge of an attempted military coup. Who initiated it is not yet clear. It is possible that both warring factions of the 'power party' are striving for it, with the neutrality of the third (the FSB and the Security Council)."

Russia's Ministry of Defense (via Telegram)

"All messages and videos distributed on social networks on behalf of E. Prigozhin about the alleged 'strike by the Russian Defense Ministry on the rear camps of Wagner PMC' do not correspond to reality and are an informational provocation.
"The armed forces of the Russian Federation continue to carry out combat missions on the line of contact with the armed forces of Ukraine in the area of the special military operation."

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman (via state media RIA Novosti)

"President Putin has been informed of all the developments around Prigozhin. Necessary measures are being taken." 

Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee (via state media TASS)

"The allegations spread on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin have no basis. In connection with these statements, the FSB of Russia initiated a criminal case on the fact of calling for an armed rebellion. We demand an immediate stop to unlawful actions." 

Anna Dolgareva, pro-Russian war correspondent (via Telegram)

"Absolutely terrible statement by Prigozhin about a missile attack from the rear on the Wagner camp. No less terrible is what sounds between the lines: a coup d'état. However, I bet that there will be no coup d'etat and everything will be resolved peacefully, and in August-September PMC Wagner will be back to storm Kharkiv."

 The "Russian Volunteer Corps" fighting on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (via Telegram)

"And here we have: an ambitious, angry, popular among the people and the military environment patriot who owns his own private army; a population demoralized by a protracted bloody war and an indistinct political power. Getting ready!"

Tatyana Stanovaya, Russian political scientist (via Telegram)

"Everyone calm down. There is no revolution. Prigozhin straightaway clearly stated that he will not touch the authorities (except for the already "hostile" military). So far, there is no convincing evidence that (a) there was a strike at Wagner fighters and (b) Prigozhin is leading columns somewhere."

Alexander Kots, Russian military correspondent of the newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda (via Telegram)

“Alexander, are you for Prigozhin, the office or the Moscow Region?” subscribers asked.

"I am for common sense, which is now lacking. Knowing the value of a word in these moments, I will keep my opinion to myself. No matter how you look at it, it's an ass everywhere."

Christo Grozev, investigative journalist for the investigative group Bellingcat (via Twitter)

"Prigozhin says he's got 25k strong army and he's going to take power and deal with the 'traitors' at the top of before returning to the front line. Am old enough to remember how Russia 'pundits' said I was talking nonsense predicting a Prigozhin coup attempt this year."
5:43 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

State media: Prigozhin's actions will be given proper assessment in criminal case, prosecutor's office says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Josh Pennington 

The actions of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group leader, "will be given a proper legal assessment in the framework of the criminal case," the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation said, according to state media RIA Novosti. 

On Friday, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case against Prigozhin, after he vowed to retaliate after accusing Moscow's military leadership of killing a "huge amount" of its mercenaries in a strike on a camp.

Russia's defense ministry denied Prigozhin's claim.

Here's the full statement from the prosecutor's office:

"On June 23, 2023, the Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia lawfully and justifiably instituted criminal proceedings against E.V. Prigozhin under Article 279 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for organizing an armed insurrection.
"There will be an appropriate legal assessment of his actions.
"This crime is punishable by imprisonment for 12 to 20 years."